Loudest Trade Buzz, Free Agency Updates for Every MLB Team Entering 2014
Those of you who let holiday season shenanigans distract you from the MLB offseason are in luck.
This list includes the most significant trade buzz and free agency updates for every team as the calendar flips to 2014.
We're getting you caught up on major league signings that have become official since Christmas, like Shin-Soo Choo's and Jesse Crain's, as well as a few at the minor league level. Plus, click through for the latest on Masahiro Tanaka.
While you were partying with those tacky New Year's glasses with the "2014" rims, here's what we learned from around the baseball world.
Itching for Meeting with Masahiro Tanaka
The Arizona Diamondbacks still seek a front-line starting pitcher, but they don't want to part with top prospects like Archie Bradley and Chris Owings to acquire one. So they've set their sights on the top remaining free agents.
The 25-year-old right-hander is particularly intriguing, reports Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic. In fact, the D-Backs intend to visit him in Japan to make their sales pitch, although that hasn't been scheduled yet.
The consensus among baseball executives is that signing Tanaka will require a six-year deal exceeding $100 million in guaranteed money (and a $20 million posting fee on top of that).
Eric O'Flaherty Return Still Possible
Here's what David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been hearing about Eric O'Flaherty:
#Braves strong bullpen could still get significantly better if O'Flaherty is re-signed. Talks not dead.— David O'Brien (@ajcbraves) December 30, 2013
O'Flaherty has posted a sensational 1.99 earned run average (200 ERA+) through five seasons with the Atlanta Braves. Particularly lethal against left-handed batters, he turns 29 in February
"Still in the Mix" for Fernando Rodney
Four teams have shown "significant interest" in the former Tampa Bay Rays closer, reports the Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly. After trading away Jim Johnson and backing out of the Grant Balfour signing, the Baltimore Orioles are one of Rodney's suitors.
Through parts of 11 MLB seasons, Rodney boasts a 2.50 ERA and .185 BAA at Camden Yards, and he pitched especially well against Baltimore last season.
"But given the team’s other needs," writes The Suns's Eduardo A. Encina, "closer might not be the Orioles' biggest priority, even if it does seem to be its biggest hole." Encina expects the O's to begin the new year by shopping for a starting pitcher and power bat.
Interest in A.J. Burnett and Bronson Arroyo, Not in Matt Garza
According to Encina, this team values Burnett's and Arroyo's experience; both have approximately 2,300 career innings pitched in the majors.
They "aren't high" on Garza, though. He's been less durable than that veteran pair in recent years, plus he seeks a longer contract.
Boston Red Sox
Favorites for Stephen Drew
What do the Boston Red Sox value more: Drew's experience and slick defense or the compensatory draft pick they'll receive if he signs elsewhere? That's the dilemma that they're sorting through right now, writes Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe.
Abraham doesn't expect Boston to re-sign him for more than two years.
Sleepers in Masahiro Tanaka Bidding
In speaking with Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe, an American League scout points out that several veteran Red Sox rotation candidates will come off the books within the next couple years. Besides Clay Buchholz, none of their pitchers have guarantees beyond 2014.
Therefore, Boston could back-load Tanaka's contract to keep their payroll reasonable.
The general manager of an NL team adds that the Red Sox won't let Daisuke Matsuzaka's disappointing tenure affect their perception of Tanaka.
Jose Veras Signing Becomes Official
Veras set career highs in ERA (3.02), WHIP (1.07) and K/BB (2.73) while finally getting some meaningful playoff experience, so it's no surprise that he secured the largest contract of his career.
The 33-year-old has held right-handed opponents to a .214/.306/.336 career batting line. Performing nearly as well when at a platoon disadvantage must've convinced the Chicago Cubs that he can handle the closer's gig.
If Veras stays healthy and solidifies the ninth inning, he'll earn up to $750,000 in incentives (in addition to a $3.75 million base salary). The Cubs have a $5.5 million club option for him in 2015 with a tiny $250,000 buyout in case things go awry.
Chicago White Sox
Deal Pending with Scott Downs
Downs' contract will guarantee him $4 million in 2014, tweets Bruce Levine of 670 The Score. There's also a 2015 club option valued at $4.25 million.
He is coming off eight straight years of at least 40 relief innings in which he perennially posted an ERA+ that's better than league average. Over the past few seasons, though, Downs has transformed from a setup man to a LOOGY, and that clearly depressed his value on the free-agent market.
The Chicago White Sox have made numerous changes to their bullpen over the past six months, most recently shipping closer Addison Reed to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Alleged Contact with Bronson Arroyo Exaggerated
It's been three weeks since the winter meetings and ultra-durable right-hander Bronson Arroyo continues his search for work.
One place he's unlikely to find it is with the Cincinnati Reds.
That was the consensus when Arroyo initially entered free agency, but then rumors surfaced about a one-year offer from his former team. He denied that, however, in an interview with ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick.
Homegrown Arms to Fill Rotation Voids
The Cleveland Indians let Scott Kazmir depart without much of a fight, and they've said little publicly about retaining Ubaldo Jimenez.
MLB.com's Jordan Bastian wonders whether internal rotation candidates like Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister can keep the Tribe in playoff contention. Several back-loaded contracts and Justin Masterson's arbitration case prevent Cleveland from making much noise in free agency.
Jake Westbrook is probably in the team's price range, but Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer hears that there's no interest in a reunion. He earned an All-Star selection for the Indians way back in 2004.
Starting Rotation Will Fill Out Internally
The Denver Post's Troy Renck doesn't expect the Colorado Rockies to continue pursuing starting pitching. He foresees Juan Nicasio and Jordan Lyles competing to fill out the rotation.
But whoever wins that spring competition is going to merely serve as a stopgap while right-hander Eddie Butler works his way through the high minors.
Renck writes that the Rockies want Butler to make a splash in the big leagues this season. In 2013, at age 21, he dominated to the tune of a 1.80 earned run average while rising up to Double-A.
Trusting Inexperienced Players
In prepping us for the 2014 Detroit Tigers, Jason Beck of MLB.com identifies several young guys who'll step into prominent roles with virtually no safety net.
Drew Smyly will inherit Doug Fister's rotation spot following a year in the bullpen, and "the key will be to pace himself and mix his approach to hitters the second and third times through the opposing lineup," Beck writes. Rookie Nick Castellanos is moving back to third base after being groomed as a corner outfielder, while Bruce Rondon is projected to occupy a setup role in front of Joe Nathan.
The Tigers seem intent on throwing these players into the fire rather than acquiring veterans to tutor them.
Jesse Crain Signing Becomes Official
Crain battled shoulder problems during the second half of 2013 and hasn't yet resumed a throwing program. According to MLB.com's Brian McTaggart, the veteran right-hander admits that it's unlikely that he'll return to full strength by Opening Day.
Nonetheless, Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow that Crain could still contribute for "a vast majority" of the summer.
When healthy last season, he was nothing short of untouchable, posting a 0.74 earned run average with one of the best strikeout rates among American League relievers (min. 30 IP).
Kansas City Royals
Minor League Deals Official with Jason Donald, Melky Mesa
Jason Donald spent all of 2013 struggling with the Cincinnati Reds' Triple-A affiliate, while Mesa actually received some MLB playing time on an injury-depleted New York Yankees team.
But at least the former is a versatile defender, and they're both on the right side of 30.
Los Angeles Angels
Raul Ibanez Signing Becomes Official
Nice low-risk/high-reward move here by the Los Angeles Angels.
Things we know about Raul Ibanez:
- He'll mash right-handed pitching.
- He'll make a positive impression in the clubhouse.
- He'll appeal to fans.
Ibanez got a bit homer-happy at age-41 and began striking out more than usual as a result. There's a good chance that he'll regress closer to his career norms in both of those facets.
So long as the Angels have sufficient outfield depth to utilize Ibanez as a designated hitter, they can squeeze a lot of value—both tangible and intangible—out of his $2.75 million contract.
Nearing Deal with Mark Mulder
Angels emerging as front runner for Mark Mulder. An incentive laden deal could be consummated soon.— Nick Cafardo (@nickcafardo) December 27, 2013
According to the Orange County Register's Jeff Fletcher, Mulder has received offers from several teams.
He'll wind up with a minor league contract, of course. The 36-year-old made his most recent major league appearance in 2008 and hasn't pitched effectively since 2005.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Veteran Outfielders Still on Trade Block
Yasiel Puig is obviously staying with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but Nick Cafardo doesn't guarantee the same for Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp, all of whom are older and pricier.
Moving Kemp is L.A.'s priority, he adds, but the market for his services won't heat up until he can prove he's healthy. He'll get the opportunity to do that in spring training.
Kemp spent most of his age-28 season on the disabled list, slashing .270/.328/.395 with six home runs and nine stolen bases when active. That paled in comparison to his 2011-2012 production (.315/.387/.567, 62 HR, 49 SB).
Next Up: Bullpen Acquisition
We know that the Miami Marlins were one of the teams to consider Jesse Crain while he was on the market. They haven't found anybody to step into Chad Qualls' role after he signed with the Houston Astros.
Miami's relief corps was a surprising strength in 2013, but that won't necessarily hold true this coming season if Carter Capps is the lone newcomer.
Yuniesky Betancourt Drawing Interest
Source: Multiple teams still interested in Yuniesky Betancourt w/ 1 possible opportunity to start. #MLB— Zach Links (@ZachLinks) December 31, 2013
Zach Link of MLB Trade Rumors adds that Betancourt is expected to sign within the next couple weeks.
The longtime shortstop has become more versatile in recent years. He now has at least 400 career innings at every infield position.
With that said, his lifetime .285 on-base percentage—.240 OBP for the 2013 Milwaukee Brewers—limits his employment opportunities.
No Offer Made to Johan Santana
"Santana is getting closer to making a decision on a minor league deal," reports Nick Cafardo.
For the time being, however, the Minnesota Twins don't appear to be one of his options:
Johan Santana update: told he has offers. Nothing imminent. That can change fast though. #MNTwins have NOT made an offer. Remain interested.— Darren Wolfson (@DarrenWolfson) December 30, 2013
Other Starters on Their Radar
The Twins have maintained a dialogue with durable right-hander Bronson Arroyo, according to Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN. They've also tossed around the idea of Suk-Min Yoon, a 27-year-old who's been pitching professionally in Korea.
To recap, Minnesota signed Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes earlier this offseason to address its pitching woes, plus the club re-signed Mike Pelfrey.
New York Mets
Ike Davis Trade Discussions with Multiple Teams
Mets have unsuccessfully tried to get pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez from Orioles for Ike Davis. Still talking to Brewers, Orioles, Pirates.— Mike Puma (@NYPost_Mets) December 27, 2013
In Davis' absence, the New York Mets would shift Lucas Duda to first base.
Ongoing Talks with Stephen Drew
According to Newsday's Marc Carig, a source compares these negotiations to those that took place between the Mets and outfielder Michael Bourn last winter. Both are represented by agent Scott Boras, and the club only got serious about Bourn once Boras lowered his asking price.
J.P. Ricciardi, a special assistant to the general manager, insists that the Mets have faith in Ruben Tejada at shortstop, though he was nothing short of awful in 2013.
New York Yankees
Ubaldo Jimenez "May Wind Up" in the Bronx
The New York Yankees need another proven starting pitcher, and as you may have noticed, they're not alone in pursuing Masahiro Tanaka.
Nick Cafardo spoke with a few general managers who foresee them settling for Jimenez, or even signing both he and Tanaka. Speaking about Jimenez, one of those GMs said, "he has the type of personality that would fit New York."
But the Bombers could be determined from what they've seem from the Venezuelan right-hander up close. In four career appearances against them, Jimenez owns a lousy 6.45 earned run average.
No "Meaningful Contact" With Tanaka So Far
"And there probably won't be until next week," ESPN New York's Wallace Matthews adds. Tanaka's agent, Casey Close, is currently vacationing.
The deadline for the right-hander to sign with an MLB team is Jan. 24.
"Absolutely No Intention" of Trading Brett Gardner...
Since reaching an agreement with outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, the Yankees have insisted that Gardner is staying put. They like the idea of pairing the two together to form a strong defensive outfield and disruptive presence in the lineup.
Team president Randy Levine reiterated that plan on The Ian O'Connor Show in mid-December.
Despite this stated position, Gardner has generated trade interest from the Cincinnati Reds and others.
...But Austin Romine is Available
Nick Cafardo says that the Yankees' signing of Brian McCann makes the 25-year-old expendable. Francisco Cervelli is expected to serve as McCann's backup.
Romine performed poorly for New York in 2013, posting a .551 OPS in 148 plate appearances.
Monitoring Masahiro Tanaka Situation from Afar
John Hickey of InsideBayArea.com writes that the Oakland Athletics pursuing Tanaka would contradict everything we know about general manager Billy Beane. He's notorious for finding value in unlikely places rather than bidding for free agents that the market overrates.
Still, because several of the A's AL West rivals will get involved, the reigning division champs want to know what makes him tick.
Mutual Interest with Ryan Madson
CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury reveals that there are still sparks between the right-hander and his former team.
The Philadelphia Phillies drafted Madson and molded him into one of MLB's most consistent late-inning relievers.
Unfortunately, he's accomplished nothing away from the City of Brotherly Love. He underwent Tommy John surgery in early 2012 and hasn't thrown a pitch in the big leagues since.
Still Considering Left-Handed-Hitting First Basemen
Chris McGuiness doesn't necessarily satisfy this need, tweets Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Neal Huntington said club likes McGuiness' offensive potential but the trade does not rule out another 1b acquisition— Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) December 30, 2013
The 25-year-old had a forgettable 10-game stint with the Texas Rangers last summer. While starting for their Triple-A affiliate, he slashed .246/.369/.423 with 11 home runs in 104 contests.
As shown earlier, Ike Davis is trade candidate who'd certainly leapfrog McGuiness on the depth chart if acquired from the New York Mets.
San Diego Padres
Joaquin Benoit Signing Becomes Official
According to Benoit himself, the San Diego Padres' forward progress (74 wins per season since 2011), Cameron Maybin's upside (.248/.311/.370 career hitter) and the great weather lured him away from perennial contention with the Detroit Tigers.
Make the 36-year-old swallow some truth serum, however, and he'd admit that money and ego were actually the two determining factors.
The Padres will pay Benoit $15.5 million over the next two seasons, representing a significant salary boost. He'll also trigger an $8 million vesting option for 2016 based on games finished.
Since undergoing rotator cuff surgery, Benoit has been among baseball's best relievers. In the four seasons since, he ranks 12th in the majors with 268 appearances while posting a strong 164 ERA+, not to mention additional success through 20 playoff appearances.
San Francisco Giants
Guillermo Moscoso Heads to Japan
The San Francisco Giants weren't making much of an effort to woo him back through free agency anyway.
The journeyman right-hander will make his next stop with Nippon Professional Baseball's Yokohama Bay Stars. While pitching for the Giants, he maintained a 5.10 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in 13 appearances (two starts).
It's looking more and more like this club will enter spring training with Ryan Vogelsong locked into the rotation's No. 5 spot.
Japanese Fanbase Could Motivate Masahiro Tanaka Pursuit
A major league official tells Roger Rubin of the New York Daily News that the Seattle Mariners envision Tanaka co-leading their rotation.
They're optimistic that he can provide a huge boost to their international profile, much like Ichiro Suzuki did last decade. And the M's could get Tanaka while retaining their oh-so-precious young talent.
St. Louis Cardinals
Jon Jay's Future Uncertain
The St. Louis Cardinals traded for Peter Bourjos earlier this offseason and think very highly of outfield prospect Oscar Taveras. MLB.com's Jenifer Langosch explains that Taveras' inevitable call-up could seriously diminish Jay's playing time.
The 28-year-old Jay just posted career worsts in batting average and slugging percentage while performing horribly in the 2013 postseason.
St. Louis finds itself in an enviable position, figuring out roster surpluses rather than deficiencies.
Tampa Bay Rays
Sam Fuld Signing "Hasn't Been Ruled Out"
According to Zach Links, the speedy reserve outfielder is weighing minor league offers. His priority is choosing the organization that gives him the best chance of earning a spot on the active roster.
Fuld has spent the past three seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, arriving as an afterthought in the 2011 Matt Garza trade. He initially impressed the league as a productive everyday player, but reality set in a few months into his tenure.
He posted a weak .199 batting average in 200 plate appearances last summer.
Shin-Soo Choo Signing Becomes Official
Choo's contract: $14 mil (2014), $14 mil (2015), $20 mil (2016), $20 mil (2017), $20 mil (2018), $21 mil (2019), $21 mil (2020)— Richard Durrett (@espn_durrett) December 27, 2013
That's seven years and $130 million guaranteed for the veteran outfielder.
This contract's back-loaded nature will allow the Texas Rangers to pursue more complementary pieces this coming season, as well as in 2015. But from then on, they'll be reliant on the farm system to churn out cheap impact players.
Aside from an injury-riddled 2011 campaign, Choo has demonstrated a fantastic knack for getting on base throughout his MLB career. The expectation is that he'll score at least 100 runs in 2014 as Texas' leadoff man.
Nelson Cruz Probably Gone
"I’m not going to 100 percent close any doors, but I think realistically his best opportunity may be elsewhere and I’m expecting him to sign elsewhere," general manager Jon Daniels said shortly after the news conference with Choo ended. "But we genuinely care about the guy and appreciate what he’s done here and wanted to communicate that with him."
Choo was assigned uniform No. 17, the same number that Cruz has worn for the past eight seasons.
Toronto Blue Jays
Alex Anthopoulos Open-Minded in Starting Pitching Search
The Toronto Blue Jays have been linked to Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and virtually every reputable, potentially available starting pitcher in between.
Anthopoulos, Toronto's general manager, hasn't pulled the trigger on any enormous deals. When he does, though, the Toronto Star's Brendan Kennedy reports that a trade is just as likely as a free-agent signing.
Will Rhymes Signing Becomes Official
Rhymes has gained most of his major league experience at second base, although he also subbed for third baseman Evan Longoria a handful of times on the 2012 Tampa Bay Rays.
He turns 31 in April and owns a .266/.328/.343 career batting line.
Danny Espinosa on the Trade Block
Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports revealed that Espinosa was being shopped during the winter meetings. The addition of Rhymes makes the Washington Nationals increasingly likely to get rid of him.
But the Nats don't need to rush it; they could wait until spring training to ensure that Rhymes still has something left in the tank.
Espinosa launched 38 home runs from 2011-2012 while contributing slick defense up the middle. However, he tried (unsuccessfully) to play through a wrist injury last summer, and the embarrassing results have wrecked his trade value.
Ely is a national MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a sportscaster for 90.5 WVUM in Miami. He wants to make sweet, social love with all of you on Twitter.